1884/85 was one of those seasons where something big “got away”, but unlike similar situations in the following centuries where it may have self-inflicted, Saints were the victim of some quite unbelievable treatment from the SFA during their Scottish Cup run which ended at the ended at the hands of eventual winners Renton in the 4th round.
The rapid growth of football in Scotland was quite extraordinary and nowhere mirrored this better than Renfrewshire. By 1885 the county was comfortably the second biggest region in Scotland represented on the SFA board with 5 seats, just one behind Glasgow. In 1879, Renfrewshire had none, which shows just how swiftly the clubs of the county had managed to establish themselves within the game. Added to this fact was the crowds Saints in particular could attract in a town where the population was growing significantly due in main to the world leading textile industry, then there must have been unease with certain clubs that they were soon about to be overtaken.
It was highly likely Saints, Abercorn or Arthurlie, or indeed all three, could break into the small pocket of elite clubs in the country and stay there due to popularity of football in Paisley and the surrounding area. During this season it was clear Queen’s Park had identified Saints as a real threat, insisting their players didn’t take regional caps so they could play a St Mirren side that they knew had been weakened due to several of our own players playing for the county. The Spiders would win 5-0 sending out a strong message they intended to stay on top.
The Scottish Cup however was where any club could climb the ladder to the top should they have success in it. During the 1884/85 competition, Saints fancied their chances, but hadn’t counted on the SFA making them replay three matches for the absurd reasons listed below in the season round up. By the end of the 3rd round stage, Saints had won 6 matches in the tournament, enough to win it outright for most of the Scottish Cup’s history but had only reached round 4!
The final forced replay at the order of the SFA which Saints won 6-3 against Renfrew, left the players less the 48 hours to prepare for a very tough 4th round tie against the fearsome Renton, but Saints were knocked out in extremely controversial circumstances (far worse than the tedious reasons used by the SFA previously to void Saints matches) which the ruling body refused to look at it on request. Renton would go onto win the competition, cementing their reputation even 150 years later as a legendary club of the game.
Those of a suspicious nature would think that something didn’t seem right with the SFA decisions against Saints, and added to the fact they had no international call ups as yet, even with a winger who had scored 38 goals the previous season in Andy Brown; and by all accounts, the best half back in the country in the shape of captain John Paterson, it did seem very strange that the very high media status of the club and town was not replicated by the Glasgow powered SFA.
Saints however, would not be deterred, and would continue their quest for success despite their questionable treatment.
John Neilson Institute held their sports day at Westmarch on the 28th, although all the events are for the pupils, St Mirren agree that the players will take part in 440 yards race (1/4 of mile) for the crowd, won by Andy Brown.
Once more the annual Sport Events hosted by Saints was a huge success, attracting top athletes of the day and the 10,000-spectator mark was broken over the two weekends on the 19th and 26th of July which drew gate money of more than £200. Both Saints teams made it beyond the first weekend this time in the 4 a-side football tournament, perhaps swelling the crowd of the second Saturday to around 6500 where they witnessed Queen’s Park win the competition as St Mirren’s second team finished third.
Following the long-term illness of former player and member Andrew Wallace, the club had agreed to play their first known benefit match (testimonial) to raise funds for him and his family as Mr Wallace hadn’t worked for over 12 months due to rheumatism in his leg caused by his football career. At this point in history there was no ‘state’ or ‘benefits’ as such, therefore the club wanted to ensure the speedy forward known as the “little demon dodger” had funds to eat and pay his rent. Port Glasgow Athletic would be the opponents at Westmarch in a match won 3-2 by Saints raising £40 for Mr Wallace, worth around £5k today.
Later in the month the highly anticipated draw for the 1st round of the Scottish Cup was held in Glasgow, where Saints were handed a favourably home match against Neilston.
This was a month of high drama for Saints as they were forced to replay their Scottish Cup 1st round tie against Neilston following a thrilling tie in Paisley where the Buddies came back from 3-0 down to win 4-3. The SFA however deemed that Saints hadn’t registered a player properly and ordered the match to be replayed as well as very curiously give home advantage to Neilston, which appeared to be against their own rules. Saints would eventually win the tie 4-1 to face Johnstone in round 2.
Sandwiched between these cup matches, Saints travelled to Glasgow to play Rangers at their Kinning Park ground. In further proof of the gulf between Paisley and the rest, the match drew only 1,000 spectators despite a couple of hundred travelling from Renfrewshire and was the lowest crowd the Buddies had played in front of for 18 months. Additionally, and completely out of context with all football reporting at the time, several newspapers commented on the performance of the referee who seemed to favour Rangers on many occasions during the 2-1 defeat for Saints.
On the first of the month, the Renfrewshire FA selected Johnstone, Watt, and Brown from Saints red hot frontline to play in the challenge match against Nottingham on the 11th, in a game that would finish 2-2 at the Castle Club Ground in the Nottinghamshire city.
The same afternoon, a weakened Saints side faced Queen’s Park who were taking the threat of the Paisley side very seriously following their defeat at Westmarch the previous season. In fact, the Spiders committee had instructed all their players picked for the Glasgow select to reject the call up so they could travel the 10 miles to Greenhill Road and face the Buddies, a tactic that worked as a threadbare Saints were beaten 5-0.
The week prior to this, Saints safely progressed through the Scottish Cup 2nd round with a comfortable 3-0 win over Johnstone where Renfrew waited in the next stage. Excitement was now building that a big cup run could happen, however drama was not far away once more.
In extraordinary circumstances during the 3rd round played on the 25th, Andy Brown scored the only goal of the match to put Saints through against Renfrew at Westmarch. When the referee blew for half time, Saints umpire and former player J Davis indicated that not all time had been played. After consultation with the Renfrew umpire, Mr Anderson, the Saints man was overruled, and half time called.
Brown would score his winning goal during the second half, but when full time was called Mr Anderson of Renfrew changed his mind and stated all the first half hadn’t been played, therefore he would be protesting the result with the SFA, despite Renfrew making the mistake. Incredibly the SFA agreed with Mr Anderson and ordered the match replayed on 8th November!
Things would get worse, however, with the SFA. With Saints 2-0 to the good at half time in the rematch, the Renfrew players refused to come back onto the playing surface as it was raining. The referee had no option but to kick off the second half and award the tie to Saints as per the rules, by which time Saints had added a third and Renfrew had declared they were protesting the result. A tea was arranged for the clubs after the match in the Globe Hotel, however the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette reported that this “ended as abruptly as the match” given the ludicrous circumstances the Paisley side had faced against their opponents.
Incredibly on the 11th November, the SFA judged in the Renfrew’s favour, ruling the match should be replayed once more to scolding criticism in the press. The association had set a date of the 13th November for the second rematch and insisted the winners take on the mighty Renton just 2 days later in the Quarter Final with no rescheduling of this tie.
On the afternoon of Thursday 13th November, Saints brushed aside Renfrew for the third time in as many weeks by a score of 6-3 to set up that quarter final with Renton just 48 hours later. This time Renfrew had no excuses up their sleeve and the Paisley side travelled to the Dunbartonshire town as underdogs and with little rest but were the better side and led 1-0 going into the last 15 minutes of the match thanks to a goal from Harper.
Late in the match, Saints appeared to score a second when the Renton keeper clawed the ball back from fully a yard over the line. The referee however refused to acknowledge the effort, despite the keeper admitting it was a goal and the home crowd also vocal in their opinion. After much protest, the goal was not given, and a distracted Saints lost 2 late goals to crash out. Unsurprisingly, Saints protested the result, and equally unsurprisingly the SFA dismissed the appeal. Renton would go onto win the cup.
1884 finished poorly for Saints as they lost in the Renfrewshire Cup 3rd round at home to Morton by a score of 4-3 five days before Christmas, with more controversy affecting the team as the winning goal was believed to be offside, however the referee refused to listen to the lengthy protests and Saints two-year grip of the county trophy was over.
On Hogmanay, the Saints players were sent off by a large crowd at Gilmour Street as they embarked on a train journey to England as they had arranged to take on the cream of Lancashire football with three matches in as many days. The journey down was eventful, T Johnstone was a late call off meaning the reserve William Pollock made the trip, leaving the team with no replacements.
Geordie Watt, the much maligned but talented forward who had a habit of missing trains, made the departure this time but left his luggage on the station platform! As the players sang and told stories into the night during the journey in their special carriage, they were startled by one of the adjoining carriages catching fire, delaying the arrival in Lancashire until mid-morning on the 1st January, the escapades had only started though.
A few hours later, Saints kicked off 1885 with a match at Pike’s Lane in Bolton against old foes Bolton Wanderers. The Paisley men had had no sleep for 40 hours, so the 2-2 result was a pleasing outcome, however the Lancashire press claimed that Wanderers goalkeeper Tom Hay was so drunk from the night before he couldn’t see properly, and outfield player Kennedy had been at wedding that morning and was incapable of running!
The following day Saints remained in Bolton to take on Halliwell but suffered an injury blow when captain Johnnie Paterson was injured in the warm-up. With no reserves, the touring Scots played with 10 men, and despite leading 2-0 ran out of steam in the second half and eventually lost 3-2. Day three of the tour was a forgettable one. Forced to play Accrington, the best team in Lancashire, with just 10 men and having a third match in as many days, the were thrashed 7-0 but the players had enjoyed the experience immensely, none other so than young Willie Pollok who stayed behind at signed for Bolton Wanderers!
The other highlight of January was a 3-1 win for Saints over a full-strength Rangers at Westmarch on the 24th of the month. This victory came despite the Paisley side giving debuts to third team youngsters Craig in goal and Heiton and Cheyne in defence.
On the 29th of the month, the club made a presentation to forward Bobby Gilmour on the occasion of him being married, gifting him a black marble timepiece and a brooch and earrings for his wife. The former Beith player commented it had been a pleasure to play for Saints, so much so that he was now reconsidering his pending retirement at the end of the season!
Saints took on Clarkston in the Renfrewshire village in a charity match to raise funds for local charities om the 7th, however only 9 players made the trip from Paisley of whom just 4 were first team players, but they were still too strong for the junior outfit and won 5-3.
On the 11th of the month, the SFA blacklisted former Saints player Willie Pollock after signing for Bolton and turning professional. Pollock could now never play again in Scotland or for the national team unless he was removed.
The only match of real note in February was Saints 2-1 win over Abercorn in the first Paisley Derby on the 14th. The match only attracted 5,000 on this occasion, and it was hoped that the poor weather was the main reason for this, however, there did seem to be a noticeable decline in attendances throughout the season compared to the last few campaigns but not enough to suggest that the club wasn’t still in the top clubs in Scotland or indeed the UK at the time, a point raised by the Chairman at the annual Saints Soiree the following Friday in the Town Hall.
Also raised by the Chairman was the treatment of the club by the SFA during their Scottish Cup run, which understandably there was still strong feelings about from the members, as the loud applause that followed this point proved.
The Renfrewshire Cup final was played at Westmarch for the first time on the 21st of the month, between Morton and Port Glasgow, attracting a bumper 8,000 crowd including hundreds who had walked from the ‘lower ward’ (would become Inverclyde over a century later) due to trains being full or not having the money to afford transport. Port Glasgow would win 2-1.
March finished with another Paisley Derby victory, this time following a fine 4-1 win at Blackstoun Park on the 28th.
The club held their second spring “bicycle race” but learned from the previous seasons low crowd by scheduling a football match in the middle of the day, where Saints beat Paisley Athletic 4-0 on the 18th.
The following week, the final of the Paisley Charity Cup was played against Abercorn at Blackstoun Park, where Saints lost their third consecutive final, this time by a score of 3-2. However, during the match, repeated time-wasting tactics by the Abercorn umpire where he refused to return the ball and engaged in arguments with Saints players resulting in a pitch invasion and confrontation between Abercorn supporters and the Buddies players resulted in Saints lodging an appeal against the result held on the 30th.
The Renfrewshire FA agreed that the interference and behaviour of the Abercorn staff and supporters had affected the result and deemed the match be replayed, however the “Zulus” refused to do so and maintained the result should stand, forcing the RFA to offer Saints the trophy.
Saints AGM took place on the 15th of the month, where the sad passing of former player and umpire James Davis was first on the agenda. Mr Davis was the second major figure and notable player who had passed away in the first decade of the club, an unfortunate and tragic normality of the time.
Also discussed was the Paisley Charity Cup. The members voted overwhelmingly to refuse the trophy on the basis they wanted to win it fairly, therefore a match with Abercorn was directly requested.